WAKEFIELD – The current Fiscal 2024 School Dept. budget is $50,090,191, an increase of $2,483,114 (5.22%) from the Fiscal 2023 budget of $47,607,077. School Superintendent Doug Lyons called “direct student services and settling contracts” his priorities in formulating the budget. “The need to hire and retain highly qualified staff to meet the changing and diverse needs of our students,” was one of the priorities listed in his presentation to the School Committee in their video-conference meeting Tuesday, March 14. Other needs include time for professional development and upgrades to technology. 

     His priorities for Fiscal 2025 and 2026 reiterated the staff need and added addressing accreditation issues, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and continuing to develop comprehensive plans for Special Education and English Learner Education (formerly English as a Second Language and English as a Learned Language). “It’s not just about one year at a time,” he said of the budgeting process. “It’s one year with a look towards the next 2-3. We’re trying to plan budgets to retain our teachers, but also be sustainable.” 

     The budget is divided into three main parts and is comprised of $42,057,630 for Personnel; $6,032,914 for Contractual Services and $1,999,647 for Materials and Supplies. In 2023 Personnel was $39,514,244; Contractual Services: $6,108,661 and Materials and Supplies $1,984,172.

     Chapter 70 state aid is currently estimated at $8,543,737, a $699,777 (8.92%) increase from $7,843,960 in Fiscal 2023. “We’d like to see more, but this is trending in the right direction,” School Business Administrator Christine Bufagna feels.

     The budget includes two new positions aligned with Lyon’s priorities for the future. They are a full time English Learner teacher and an additional Special Education teacher in an expansion of language-based programs at the High School. The number of English Learners grew from 97 in 2022 to 108 in 2023 and increasing Special Education services at the High School could decrease the number out-of-district placements. “We’re adding positions to save money,” Lyons explained.

     “Building programs will help us for years to come,” Assistant Superintendent Kara Mauro added.

     School Committee member Mike Boudreau described the new positions as “an investment for down the road. If you stop investing, you’ll have bigger problems later.”

     He also described the budget proposal as a whole as a “extraordinarily responsible budget.”

     Member Kevin Piskadlo agreed.  “I think this is a very responsible budget,” he said. “I look forward to supporting it and hope the rest of the town does as well.”

     There will be a Public Hearing and School Committee vote at the next meeting Tuesday, March 28. “This is open for good, healthy conversation,” School Committee chair Tom Markham said. “We invite the community to participate.”

     He started the meeting thanking the town for its vote in favor of building a new high school (3,427 to 1,430) in an election March 11. It was the second leg in a two phase approval process following approval at a Special Town Meeting January 28 by a vote of 1,231 to 42. “We are now on our way to a new High School,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time for our school department and the community at large.”

     Lyons also thanked the community.

     Current numbers indicate the school will cost $273,250,903, with the state School Building Authority contributing $64,984,456, leaving $208,266,447 to the town. It is scheduled to open January 2027.  Markham recalled the initial applications for state aid started a decade ago. “We were able to see it through to a new High School as a building for the students and community,” he said.

     New schools can attract new residents, which can have a ripple effect on the tax base and economic conditions, as well as the school system. “If we build a new High School and have more kids, we’ll have think about what positions we might need,” School Commuter remember Kevin Fontanella said during the budget discussion, which dovetailed nicely with Lyons’ comments about spending money now to plan for the future.